This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Did Jesus Teach Salvation by Works? A Review

Did Jesus Teach Salvation by Works? The Role of Works in Salvation in the Synoptic Gospels. By Alan P. Stanley. Volume 4, The Evangelical Theological Society Monograph Series. Edited by David W. Baker. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2006. 415 pp. $42.00.

Alan Stanley, who received his PhD from Dallas Theological Seminary, now serves both as a pastor and as an instructor at Mueller College of Ministries in Queensland, Australia. Stanley's book is an edited monograph version of his PhD dissertation and is volume 4 in the Evangelical Theological Society monograph series. I intend to purchase and to read Alan Stanley’s modified and accessible version of his dissertation under the title Salvation is More Complicated Than You Think: A Study on the Teachings of Jesus (Paternoster, 2007, 224 pp. $16.90).

Stanley’s book consists of twelve chapters. Chapter 1 offers rationale that validates the question raised by the book's title. Did Jesus Teach Salvation by Works? Stanley contends that essentially the same question is raised by the teacher of the law (Luke 10:25-28), the Rich Young Ruler (Matt 19:21), and the jailer in Philippi. However, Paul’s response, in Acts 16:31, differs from how Jesus responds to the question. While the apostle Paul commands, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” Jesus calls for deeds. Jesus continually calls for actions that include forgiving the sins of others, as conditions that must be fulfilled in order to receive God’s forgiveness, to receive eternal life, or to enter the kingdom.

Stanley’s thesis is clear: “the presence or absence of ‘works’ plays a significant role (in final judgment) in determining where one spends eternity.” Without dispute, his thesis is controversial. For many readers, his thesis will be threatening. Stanley realizes that he needs to demonstrate how his thesis agrees with the measure of orthodox evangelical belief that salvation is “by grace alone through faith alone.” Does Stanley’s understanding of Jesus’ teaching concerning salvation and deeds agree with the common evangelical affirmation with regard to justification by grace through faith apart from “works of the law”? Throughout the latter portion of chapter 1 Stanley considers the need for a book such as his, he anticipates objections to his thesis, and he outlines an approach for arguing his thesis.

Stanley traces various historical theological explanations concerning the relationship between works and salvation in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles throughout chapter 2. He grounds his thesis within the range of theological expressions gathered from the early church theological fathers to more recent times. Stanley demonstrates that the church’s theologians did not sign in unison concerning the relation between works and salvation but with diverse voices, sometimes harmoniously but sometimes with conflicting sounds. In this chapter Stanley identifies passages of Scripture that have held prominence in the church’s theologians’ diverse explanations concerning this relationship. The chapter does one further thing. It offers a historical and theological framework for assessing the author’s own theological expressions concerning the relationship between works and salvation.

In chapter 3 Stanley locates his own work on the relationship between salvation and works within the range of post-Reformation scholarship concerning the relationship between works and salvation within Judaism. Primarily, his objective is to show the historical and theological backdrop within which Jesus taught. Secondly, Stanley provides critical interaction concerning E. P. Sanders’s thesis that Judaism was rooted in grace not in works-righteousness (Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion). Finally, the chapter evaluates the fallout of Sanders’s thesis on scholarly discussions concerning the relationship between works and salvation in Paul’s letters but also in the Gospels.

Chapters 4 and 5 provide Stanley’s own understanding of the relationship between works and salvation. His concentration is on the concepts of “works” and “salvation” in the Synoptic Gospels. Nevertheless, he offers a scan of the whole New Testament. Most basic concerning Stanley’s argument is the “already” and “not yet” nature of salvation. In these two chapters Stanley to endeavors to demonstrate how his own theological voice concerning “works” and “salvation” blend harmoniously with an expanding chorus of evangelical voices that cogently make the same argument.

Chapters 6 through 11 unpack the significance of what Stanley argues in chapters 4 and 5. The author contends that Jesus’ teaching concerning the relationship between works and salvation entails works not simply as evidence of conversion but also as a condition for receiving final salvation. Stanley offers careful nuance concerning his use of the term “condition” for fear that someone may allege that he views the relationship as one that entails the notion of achieving merit with God. Stanley argues that when Scripture presents salvation as “already” possessed, works and endurance are properly conceived of as evidence of salvation. Likewise, he insists that when Scripture presents salvation as “not yet” attained, we properly conceive of works and endurance as a condition of salvation. Stanley argues this thesis by addressing crucial issues in the Synoptic Gospels under the following chapter titles: “Requirements for Entering the Kingdom” (chapter 6); “Attaining Eternal Life” (chapter 7); “The Role of Discipleship in Salvation” (chapter 8); “The Role of Endurance in Salvation” (chapter 9); “The Role of Treating Others in Salvation” (chapter 10); and “The Role of Judgment in Salvation” (chapter 11).

Stanley draws his argument to a conclusion in chapter 12. He does this by observing that the answer one gives to the question asked by his book’s title depends on the outlook on salvation that is present within the biblical passage under review. By outlook, Stanley refers to whether the passage’s orientation is toward the beginning of salvation (conversion) or toward the end of salvation (consummation). He insists that in passages where Jesus speaks of initial conversion, not of final salvation, Jesus links works to salvation as evidence of salvation. However, wherever Jesus is speaking of salvation’s consummation in the eschaton, not conversion, Jesus presents works as a condition of salvation. Whenever Jesus speaks of persevering unto final salvation, which is an event that is yet to come and not an event that has already occurred, we correctly speak of perseverance as a necessary condition in order that we might be saved.

Stanley’s thesis is courageous. Some, perhaps many, will say that his thesis is wrong. This book is published as debates over Paul’s teaching concerning justification continue to escalate, a dispute incited mainly by what is called “the New Perspective on Paul.” Stanley draws notable distinctions between his work on Jesus’ teaching on the relationship between works and salvation from the “covenantal nomism,” the view of E. P. Sanders in his work on Second Temple Judaism and Paul’s letters. Though Stanley clearly draws distinctions, it is doubtful that he will escape indictment as siding with the “new perspective.” Some will impute guilt by association. I had to smile, even chuckle, at one statement that survived editorial revision. I did not realize that E. P. Sanders was so aged; he has aged well: “The writings at Qumran, of which only a fraction existed in Sanders’ time. . .” (p. 107).

If ever a book called for sympathetic reading and what D. A. Carson calls “distanciation,” Stanley’s book does. Lamentably, his cautions and clarifications will go unheeded, despite his care to develop and to demonstrate the validity of his thesis. Despite his caution to guard against misunderstanding, Stanley occasionally makes statements that will arouse dismissive response. For example, after he acknowledges that humans are entirely dependent upon God for the gift of salvation and for the capability to do any good deeds, Stanley observes, “Yet it is true that Paul never teaches salvation by faith alone if we understand salvation as a broad term” (p. 321). Because Stanley is discussing Ephesians 2:8-9, he owes the reader an explanation concerning the breadth of the term “salvation” but also of other expressions to avoid dismissive indictment from some readers. Stanley does provide thoughtful distinction between pre-conversion works and post-conversion works, to clarify his rather arresting statement. Nevertheless, what does “faith” entail? Fuller explanation concerning the relationship between faith and good works would go a long way to protect him against being misunderstood. As I have argued on this blog, I fear that Stanley confounds categories when he asserts, “In the last analysis the decision as to who is saved will be made not on the basis of faith but works” (p. 321)? May I suggest that it would be better to say that God’s final verdict concerning salvation will not be rendered “on the basis of faith” but rather “according to deeds”? As I have observed at various times on this blog, to some I may seem excessively cautious to distinguish the means of salvation from the grounds of salvation. Yet, the distinction seems crucial to our Protestant and evangelical faith.

If one will understand Stanley’s thesis and the development of that thesis, one will have to follow his distinction between the already and not yet aspects of salvation. Understanding these is vital for developing a coherent and compatible understanding of Jesus’ teaching concerning the role of works in relation to salvation. If one does not accept this distinction one will hardly accept Stanley’s explanation that Jesus teaches that works relate to salvation not always nor even primarily as evidence of salvation already begun. Stanley correctly shows that the principal way that the Synoptic Gospels portray the relationship between works and salvation is that Jesus speaks more frequently of “works as a condition for final salvation or entrance into the eschatological kingdom” (p. 334). What does Stanley mean? He means that if “works (e.g., endurance, love, mercy, forgiveness) are not present then final salvation will not be granted” (p. 334). Despite his clarity, Stanley occasionally confuses the reader, such as when he offers his explanation of Colossians 1:22-23. Stanley mistakes the verb of the apodosis as “you have been reconciled” instead of “to present you.”

Some readers may be annoyed by the somewhat parochial dimension that manifests itself throughout the book but especially in chapters 1 and 12. Understandably, a dissertation submitted for a PhD at Dallas Theological Seminary on the relationship between works and salvation in Jesus’ teaching would interact with the marginal views of those associated with the Grace Evangelical Society, views historically tied to Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, and various other mostly former professors.

I commend Stanley’s book for serious readers who desire to wrestle with the relationship between works and salvation in the Synoptic Gospels. No one who desires to preach, teach, or write accurately concerning salvation and works in the Synoptic Gospels can afford to ignore Stanley’s book. For those who may find the book rather challenging may prefer Stanley’s Salvation is More Complicated Than You Think less daunting.

A. B. Caneday
Northwestern College, Saint Paul, Minnesota


This review is a thoroughly rewritten version of my review that will be published in the next issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Find the above review on the web page here.

Find my published review in JETS below.

Did Jesus Teach Salvation by Works, By Alan P


Dan Chen said...

Dr. Caneday,

I know you explained this before, but can you quickly draw out your distinction between deeds being the "basis for" or "according to" our final judgment. I always thought that people used the word,"basis", to mean closely to something like Christ' active obedience (him fulfilling the law for us) while the phrase ,"according to", means the fruits of faith which is the evidences that we are "born-again" , which do not have any direct connection to our final verdict.

In regards to Garlington's new review, what do you think about his criticism of Piper for introducing the word "basis" in his interpretation of Romans 2? Does this criticism apply to you when you make the distinction between "basis" and "according to"?



A. B. Caneday said...


The distinction that I draw between according to and on the basis of concerns judgment, as in passages such as Romans 2:6. Paul says that God will render to each one κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ. In my estimation, for us to read Paul's expression as "he will render to each on the basis of his deeds" is to say too much because the issue of judgment entails eternal life as Romans 2:7-10 makes clear. Instead, when God judges us, he will render to each one "according to his deeds." The former translation of κατὰ poses a serious theological problem. The latter translation of κατὰ avoids the theological problem.

I take it that your second question refers to the following portion from Garlington's review. “The Place of Our Works in Justification” (Chapter 7) is largely a discussion of Romans 2:13. Piper evokes the traditional category of the basis or ground of justification, in the present and at the end. As familiar as the approach is, methodologically it starts out on the wrong foot. The fact is that Paul hardly ever uses the language of “basis” or “ground.”

I think that John is picking up on things that I had said long ago concerning N. T. Wright's discussion of Romans 2. I have said that I think that Wright's expression is kind of sloppy. I pointed out that John Piper also used the same expression with regard to Romans 2.

It is conceivable that Don Garlington's criticism applies to me. I would, however, have a quibble or two concerning the point.

KP said...

So much confusion. No, Jesus did not teach salvation by works. That was the whole point of repentance. Especially regarding the Pharisees and their pursuit of self-righteouness. By changing their thinking they were pointed to Jesus Christ, the end of the law to obtain as a free gift what they were trying in vain to obtain through obedience to the law. The issue is perfection. To be reconciled to God requires that we are perfect. But, such status is a judicial status, that is, it is a judicial imputation we receive after we agree with the work of Jesus Christ. Another often overlooked issue is atonement. The suffering endured by Jesus Christ, while on the cross, was sufficient to satisfy God the Father's demand for justice regarding the penalty of all human sin, unlimited atonement. And, since by definition, salvation is not a process and not by works, when we do sin, God cannot impute the penalty of sin to the extent of spiritual death since such sin has previously been atoned for. "Forgiveness" when in the context of salvation is the equivalent of receiving a pardon. When we agree with or believe in God's report regarding the work of salvation of Jesus Christ we are pardoned, condemned no more, the equivalent of "forgiveness". It's important to note that salvation is not based on prayer to God asking him for forgivenenss. That is a blantant misapplication taken out of context. James 2 is an often abused chapter pertaining to faith and works. So many miss the whole point. This chapter was devoted to those saved by the law of liberty. They were commanded, as beleivers, to exhibit those qualities to encourage others to be pointed to Jesus Christ apart from works or the works of the law. So, the Christian "faith" without works appears dead to the unbeliever. Such "faith" had nothing to do with salvation. Works never validate salvation, never. In Romans, the Apostle Paul spoke of "receiving the atonment", an issue of faith. Such faith is not made legitimate by its fervor but rather by the object is beholds. If salvation from God's wrath, is conditioned upon our works as opposed to the singular command to believe, then no man can rest at night and have the peace of God that goes beyond human understanding. The condition of works to faith is insanity. God is love and God would never ask the impossible of us. He expects perfection, but the good news is that such status is a free gift when we obey the singular command to beleive.

A. B. Caneday said...


You said a lot, but it's really difficult to follow because you make assertions without arguments.

Consider your final statements. God is love and God would never ask the impossible of us. He expects perfection, but the good news is that such status is a free gift when we obey the singular command to beleive.

Do your statements not contradict one another? On the one hand you say, God is love and God would never ask the impossible of us. Then you tell us that God expects what is impossible from us. He expects perfection. . . .

Indeed, God does require what we are incapable of doing, but as Augustine rightly said long ago, "O God, command what you will and give what you command."

Antonio said...

So I am wondering,


Do you for the most part agree wholeheartedly with the scholorship and arguments of the book?

Thanks in advance,

Antonio da Rosa

A. B. Caneday said...


You asked, Do you for the most part agree wholeheartedly with the scholorship and arguments of the book?

Your question strikes me as somewhat odd, given the juxtaposition of for the most part and wholeheartedly. I'm not sure how to answer, since your question essentially oscillates between two questions: (1) Do you for the most part agree with the scholorship and arguments of the book? and (2) Do you agree wholeheartedly with the scholorship and arguments of the book?

So, I will answer your question as best I can, in keeping with the review that I wrote.

I believe that Alan Stanley has done a good piece of scholarship by demonstrating the historical-theological understanding of the issues, by raising the necessary and pertinent questions, and by providing well-reasoned and well-demonstrated exegetical arguments to support the conclusions that he draws.

I do not agree with everything that Stanley says, just as I express in my review. Here and there he states matters in ways that I would not express them, but then to be fair, admittedly, I have been preaching and teaching and writing on these matters for many more years than Alan has. In the main, I concur with Stanley's conclusions. Then again, if you have read my book, The Race Set Before Us, you would realize this. After all, Alan draws frequently upon The Race Set Before Us, especially at the most critical junctures of his own argument.

I humbly and completely unashamedly believe, preach, teach, and write concerning the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the same basic vein that Alan Stanley has endeavored to do in his book.


P.S. I notice that you identify yourself as a "free gracer." I'm always struck by the redundancy of the expression, "free grace." Grace, by its very essence is free. Grace cannot be more free than grace.

Running said...

According to 1 Corinthians 3:14-15, God’s workers receive a reward according to the quality of their work on the Day of Judgment, provided their work stands the test. If a worker’s work is burned up due to inferior quality, he himself is still saved, although he suffers loss. The work is building the church. 1 Corinthians 3:17 moves beyond the issue of inferior quality work to destroying the church, and the loss to the worker there is eternal life. To me the passage makes a distinction between the salvation of the worker and his reward.

I look forward to your comments.

Lou Martuneac said...


I noted that you reference Free Grace theology and the GES.

I want to dispel the misnomer being spread by some Grace Evangelical Society (GES) members, especially Antonio da Rosa. The misnomer, and it is a major misnomer, is that GES is the voice of the Free Grace movement in general.

The GES has in fact become a shrinking cell of extremists that have fallen into the trap of Zane Hodges’ “Crossless” interpretation of the Gospel. This “contrary doctrine” of Hodges and Bob Wilkins’s “Crossless/Deityless” interpretation of the Gospel has been the cause of “division and offences” in the FG camp and churches. (Rom. 16:17-18).

The teachings of Hodges is what has come to be known and accurately defined as the Crossless Gospel,” “ReDefined Free Grace Theology” and the “Promise Only Gospel.” It is largely because of GES’s heretical views of the Gospel; many men in the Free Grace community have separated from GES and do not want their name or ministry to be identified with the GES.

The Free Grace Alliance (FGA) was formed in part to become and is the new home of many men who have departed GES over the egregious errors coming from Hodges and Wilkin.

Exposure of the egregious errors of Hodges, Wilkin, Neimela, Myers, and lesser knowns like Antonio da Rosa has put the doctrinal views of GES theology on display. It is my hope and prayer the GES is soon to become totally isolated and outside any relevant discussion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

May I share this article with your guests, Is “ReDefined” Free Grace Theology- Free Grace Theology?

The article will help them understand that Hodges & Wilkin and especially Antonio da Rosa, do not speak for and do NOT represent the general population of men who identify themselves as members of the so-called Free Grace community.

The Free Grace community has been fractured, and it is a good fracture in that large numbers of FG men have withdrawn from GES over the Hodges/Wilkin “Crossless” interpretation of the Gospel.

Lord willing not one more unsuspecting believer will fall into the trap of the Crossless gospel.

Kind regards,


PS: At my blog several contributors and I have written scores of article on both the Lordship Salvation and Crossless interpretations of the Gospel. Some may be of interst to you.

A. B. Caneday said...


Thank you for the helpful and informative update on the fracture within the "Free grace" movement.

I had read a little bit about it, but I did not realize the depth or magnitude of this fracture.

I will follow through on doing more reading, beginning with the link you kindly provided.

Thanks again.

Lou Martuneac said...

Brother Caneday:

Thank you for the kind reply. I wrote to inform, but avoid the harsh rhetoric that often accompanies these debates.

The "fracture," as I call it, in the FG community is very real. As you read you will be able to discern that the divide is over a serious disagreement over the Gospel message that must be believed for the reception of eternal life.

If I may, one more link: The "Christ" Under Siege, with a link to part 2 of the series.

A partner of mine wrote this series. It reveals another disturbing theological view coming from the GES, Zane Hodges in particular.

I trust you will find the series informative and helpful.

KInd regards,